Accepted Papers:

The status paradox reconsidered. The role of class in Somalian migration  


Tabea Scharrer (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper Short Abstract:

This presentation will explore the relationship between class, migration and social mobility, using the example of regional and transcontinental Somalian migrants. It will be shown that class matters not only for migration routes, but also for how people are able to settle in a new place.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation will discuss the connection between class and migration, using the example of the Somalian refugees. While in Europe and North America Somalians are regarded as one of the least 'successful' group of migrants, often dependent on social security, in Kenya they are seen as almost too successful. I argue that these apparently contradictory images are not only due to a status paradox of migration (Nieswand 2011), but also to the neglect of aspects of class in much of the migration literature. Even though it was claimed time and again that class as a concept is not useful for African societies (Goody 1971, Neubert & Stoll 2018), I argue that class matters also when other categories, such as ethnicity and clan, are more prominent for identification processes. Class, in the sense of the socio-economic foundation of 'life chances', including the possibility for education and physical mobility, not only influences where people can migrate to, but also how they are able to settle in the new place. In the case of Somalian migration three different groups can be observed - people from poor families stay within the country or the region, not able to move beyond; migrants from middle class backgrounds often move abroad, but stay in an insecure position in the new place; only migrants from upper class families are able to move back to East Africa after having lived abroad, enabled by their financial resources and 'Western' citizenship. This presentation is based on fieldwork in Kenya and Germany.

Panel P133
The new anthropology of class: relations of place, experience and (dis)possessions